THE ROBOTEER

PrintE-mail Written by Christian Jones

There was a time when “space opera” was regarded with a certain amount of snobbish disdain by readers of hard science fiction. “Space opera” was nothing more than a western or fantasy tale disguised in a spacesuit, hiding in a rocket ship and for children, or so they’d have you believe. But then authors started appearing in which they used the familiar tropes of space operas; space warfare and melodramatic adventure, an uprising against a tyrannical regime as a backdrop for hard sci-fi with its emphasis on scientific accuracy and technical detail. Authors with scientific backgrounds themselves, such as Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds. Alex Lamb’s debut novel The Roboteer continues the trend of hard sci-fi opera, which has earned him favourable comparisons to the aforementioned writers. Lamb himself has a background in robotics and artificial intelligence which he puts to good use in the telling of this story.

Set in a future in which the colonisation of the stars is perilously dangerous, small human settlements cling to barely habitable planets. Warring terrorist factions have all but destroyed any coherent form of civilization on Earth itself leaving the colonies to develop ways of life heavily dependent on robotics and genetic engineering. Then a new militant unifying religion sweeps across Earth, a religion that is bent on converting all mankind to its creed, a religion that classes genetic engineering as an abomination. Fleets of starships are sent to reclaim the colonies. But the colonies are more than happy with their autonomy and so begins mankind's first interstellar war. It is dirty war, dangerous and hideously costly. And thrown into this melee is Will Kuno-Monet, a roboteer. Will’s a genetically-engineered human whose purpose is to single-handedly control the Ariel, a ship comprised of the most dangerous and delicate technology that mankind has ever devised. He is sent behind enemy lines on a mission with which the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

Lamb starts the narrative at the gallop and rarely does it slow down making this a fast paced and exhilarating read. Despite its pace the character of Will still has room to breathe and develop. He’s a richly drawn character in which his thoughts and feelings are laid bare. He sometimes doubts his abilities, he doesn’t always have a grip on the situation and he is driven to bouts of explosive anger at the actions of the Eathers. Will’s antagonist, the lead scientist for an Earth weapons project, General Gustav is also afforded the same treatment. Although he sees genetic engineering as an abomination and justifies the Earthers subjugation of the colony worlds he doesn’t quite see things as so black and white. There are hints of moral ambiguity encroaching upon his beliefs. There are plenty of other characters but as they taken more at face value it feels as though their function is to propel the plot along, which actually works in the books favour. As The Roboteer is the first book in a sequence it’s possible that some of the supporting characters will develop stronger personalities of their own later on.

The history of Earth’s new brutal religious regime and its reclamation of the colonies is tantalisingly subtle and draws parallels to what is happening in certain parts of the world today. This is another facet that will hopefully be further explored in future volumes. Lamb vividly creates Will’s world, a world that is constantly ravaged by extreme weather and one that has barely enough of a population to sustain it.

Alex Lamb has crafted a terrific debut novel. If the subsequent volumes are as good as this one then Lamb will surely be prominent in many an SF fan’s bookcase.

THE ROBOTEER / AUTHOR: ALEX LAMB / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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